The Poland Extension
Apteka, Obiady and Ksiegarnia
By Nichole Altmix
Just north of McCarren Park, running from Nassau Avenue to Newtown Creek and then farther east to Gardner Avenue, it is common to find an apteka, obiady and ksiegarnia, which perhaps only people living in the Greenpoint neighborhood recognize. Throughout this northernmost area of Brooklyn, typical Brooklynese takes the back seat and Polish prevails as the dominant language and culture.
The 2000 Census revealed that New York as a whole had 986,141 Polonians and “has the second largest population of Polish-Americans after Chicago.” Is it the comfort of being around other people familiar with the language, customs and culture or is it fear of what is outside of those essentials that makes Greenpoint a magnet for people of Polish decent?
Some residents, like Mr. Marcin Krukowski, a middle-aged truck driver, had little choice in his childhood neighborhood. Born in Poland, he moved to the United States in December 1965. He has never lived anywhere else and feels it is convenient to stay in Greenpoint, “everything is here: stores and shops.” He feels a sense of security because of the common language with his neighbors, and thinks that the neighborhood “is very safe and quiet,” making it more of a community than just a place of residence. Although most who immigrate are not trying to escape learning a whole new culture and master an entirely new language, this clustering may help avoid the possible isolation that can accompany a language barrier.
Developments in technology have changed the process of immigration, allowing Polish men and women who move to Greenpoint to remain half in their home country and half in America. Calling cards and e-mail make it easy to establish a new home half-way across the world. When another member of the family or a friend is interested in moving to Greenpoint, integration begins earlier but could make for a truncated assimilation.
Other parts of Brooklyn and New York simply fail to offer the security blanket that Greenpoint offers for Polish people. Some of the younger residents that regularly congregate in front of The Garden Store and Grocery on the corner of Nassau and Manhattan Avenues have no intention of living somewhere else. “Everything is here, friends, family, stores.” Residents shop at Polish meat markets, Polish hardware stores and eat out at Polish restaurants. The storeowners are Polish and the business practices are Polish. Economically, these clusters are beneficial for this tight community given that the storeowners are marketing products to specific buyers.
Mr. Joseph Kurzia is the owner of the Driggs Meat Market located on Driggs and Humboldt. He sells his Polish meats and groceries to a mostly Polish clientele and some American enthusiasts. An employee says that his store would not be as profitable in other neighborhoods with fewer Polish residents. Malvina, an employee at Kasjan Bakery on Manhattan Avenue, is of the same opinion about her family-owned-and-operated bakery. Although the store is visited by numerous American dessert lovers, the majority of customers that indulge in the Polish sweets are, in fact, Polish, and Malvina seems to think this business flourishes best in Greenpoint.
Greenpoint, in addition to the addictive pierogies, also has true, ideal neighborhood qualities that attract residents. The trees, garages and quiet evenings/mornings set it apart from noisy Manhattan. But being suburban is not what keeps this area labeled Little Poland. A few mainstream “American” establishments have bought into the previously Polish-only neighborhood: Dunkin Donuts recently opened, there are a slew of sushi restaurants, and English translations can be found more often than not. But GAP, Duane Reade and Starbucks do not populate every street corner as they do in Times Square, and this lack of cookie-cutter American establishments is precisely what draws some people to Greenpoint, yet steers some away.
Alexander Brimijoin, a 26-year-old graphic designer, has lived in Greenpoint for about five months. Originally from Rochester, MN, Mr. Brimijoin “wanted a cheap, spacious apartment that was in a quiet neighborhood, but not far from interesting nightlife and galleries.” He claims that he will stay in this “comforting Polish oasis” for the stuffed cabbage, polish markets, kickball leagues in McCarren Park and the pierogies at Warsaw.
Another resident, Camille DeBiase, views Greenpoint as one of the last remaining neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Born and raised a Brooklynite, Ms. DeBiase “remembers when Bayside was mainly a Norwegian-Irish mix, Williamsburg was inhabited by Orthodox Jews and Bensonhurst was primarily Italian.” She would go to each section to find exactly what she needed. Now with the evolution of Chinatown in Brooklyn and the high-rises springing up everywhere, “Brooklyn is becoming a mix just like Manhattan. The neighborhoods are dissolving and becoming more integrated.” She is sad to see that “Greenpoint is one of the last settlements in Brooklyn” and would love for it to remain Polish because she wants to preserve the neighborhood mentality, as most living in Greenpoint seem to agree, Polish, Polish-American and American alike.
An Encounter with Nature in the Most Unlikely Place
Mute Swan Descends on Newtown Creek
By Carolina Worrell
In November, Captain John Lipscomb of Riverkeeper, a not-for-profit environmental watchdog group that often patrols the Newtown Creek area, came across a swan, white and majestic set against a drab background on the steps of the in-progress Department of Environmental Protection nature walk.
“I saw that swan only one time and photographed it because it was such a contrast,” said Lipscomb.
Although this particular swan; identified by the New York City branch of Audubon as a Mute Swan because of its signature orange bill and curved neck, was the first of its kind to be spotted at that location, it is not the first to be spotted in New York City.
Mute swans, originally Eurasian and introduced to the U.S. through parks and ponds, are established in the wild and have been spotted by both Lipscomb on the Hudson River (between New York City and Albany) and by Laura Hoffmann of Barge Park Pals on Newtown Creek, a little past Gantry State Park in Long Island City, and the Bushwick Inlet.
The fact that the swans have been regular visitors in the Newtown Creek area for some time now goes along with the theory that Mute swans migrate and then return yearly to the same neighborhood. However, Mute swans usually travel in pairs and have been known to mate for life, making it a very rare image for Lipscomb to photograph.
Mute swans also tend to infiltrate areas where floating vegetation is present and since none could be seen, it raised questions. What was this swan doing there and where did it come from?”
Lipscomb’s belief is that the swan might have been in the middle of migration but whatever the reason, the swan’s location was not a good one for it to be so Lipscomb herded it towards the East River.
According to Basil Seggos, chief investigator of Riverkeeper, birds that land on Newtown Creek risk coming into contact with polluted water impacted by raw sewage, oil slicks, and other highly toxic pollutants. But the swan sightings on the steps of the DEP nature walk and in the areas that circle it give what Lipscomb calls, “windows into nature.”
Due to Newtown Creek’s surrounding industrialized area, oxygen transfer within the water is almost non-existent except within the very top of the creek. But before Europeans first settled in the area, Newtown Creek was a thriving habitat for nature and a spotting such as the one of the single swan can give a glimpse into what was. And, if Newtown Creek was cleaned up even a little, it could possibly become a place that will draw wildlife once again.
Situations like these are what motivate people like Lipscomb and his fellow Riverkeeper workers as well as Audubon and Barge Park Pals.
“It keeps you moving forward,” said Lipscomb. “It is both sad and yet hopeful at the same time.”
Greenpoint YMCA Celebrates 100 Years
The Greenpoint YMCA celebrated 100 years of its facility at 99 Meserole by holding the Greenpoint 100 Years Gala at Giando on the Water.
Though the YMCA has served the Greenpoint and Williamsburg communities since 1884, its foundation was literally established in this community when the facility at 99 Meserole Avenue was built 100 years ago. The Greenpoint YMCA’s building is the oldest YMCA building in Greater New York.
Proceeds from the 100 Years Gala will go to support the Greenpoint YMCA’s many programs and services, such as the Early Childhood, After-School, Teen Leadership, Drug Prevention, Sports and Aquatics programs, so that no one in the community will ever be turned away because of inability to pay.
For more information contact Rene Bouchard, Director of Fund Development and Communication at 718.389.3700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Early Intervention Day Care Center
The Early Intervention Day Care Center in Williamsburg was recently visited by community leaders and the United Way of New York City’s Quality New York Program to announce the accreditation of the center. The EICB Center provides special instruction services to 98 children from birth to age three who are developmentally delayed or have a diagnosed condition that affects their health and development.
The goal is to enhance the child's development, to provide support and assistance to the family, and to maximize the child and family's benefit to society. Timing of intervention becomes particularly important when a child runs the risk of missing an opportunity to learn during a state of maximum readiness. Services are determined according to individual needs and EICB offers center-based and home-based services. They have English classrooms and Spanish classrooms where children are instructed in their native language.
This program for children with developmental disabilities is part of United Way of New York City's Quality New York program, a crucial component of UWNYC's efforts to address the root causes of poverty. Nearly 29% of New York City’s children live in poverty, putting them at greater risk of under-performing on state proficiency tests and of dropping out of school.
Quality New York is also the primary focus of Women United in Philanthropy, a special United Way of New York City initiative that connects philanthropic giving, advocacy on critical human services issues and volunteerism, to give women an active voice in the community.
For more information about the United Way of New York go to www.uwnyc.org